Boston Roots Rockers, Adam Ezra Group, Take Off
The Adam Ezra Group has built its reputation on self-described “sweaty, passionate,” and enduring live performances.
In fact, the Boston area ensemble’s shows have become so notable that its fervent Northeast following has swapped more than 100 live bootleg recordings, which wouldn’t be a problem for the band if it wasn’t for one thing.
“We have a lot of tapers come out to shows, but the problem with those recordings is that no matter how well it sounds in the room they don’t translate well,” Ezra says by telephone while traveling the backroads of Ohio. “We want our fans to take some of the live concert experience home, we just want to put out something with a higher-quality sound.”
So, the roots rock band — which features Ezra on vocals, guitar and banjo, Josh Gold on keyboards, Francis Hickey on bass, Alex Martin on drums, Turtle on hand percussion, and Corinna Smith on fiddle — invested in recording live performances themselves. The result is last year’s Better Than Bootleg Vol. 1, and Better Than Bootleg Vol. 2, which was released earlier this month.
“We wanted to create as much content for them as possible,” Ezra says. “Many of the songs appear on studio albums, but there’s also a bunch of new songs as well.”
The newly minted Better Than Bootleg Vol. 2, for example, features the tune “Life of a Thief,” inspired by binge-watching the second season of the FX motorcycle series “Sons of Anarchy,” as well as a live version of “Let Your Hair Down,” which Ezra wrote with the help of American Authors producers Shep Goodman and Aaron Accetta.
“They invited me into the studio to do some writing with them and I played them this song,” Ezra says. “It wasn’t where I wanted it to be and they helped me out a little bit. We actually recorded a studio version of this song and are going to be making a video for it. It will be the first track on our next studio album later this year.”
Ezra, who was born in upstate New York, but grew up outside Boston in Wayland, Mass., credits his mother, Joanne Hammil, a folk musician herself who directs the Greater Boston Intergenerational Chorus, for surrounding him with music. He didn’t pick up the acoustic guitar himself, however, until a failed experiment as a drummer.
“When I was in high school I played drums, and I was a terrible, terrible drummer playing in a terrible high school band that I loved,” he says, laughing. “The guitarist in the band would teach me some chords and as soon as I learned enough of them I started teaching myself guitar.”
Ezra attended Colgate University, then began traveling, first to Venezuela, then South Africa and Canada. It was during these trips that he became absorbed in the guitar. He headed to Chicago, where he honed his skills at the wealth of open mics, and began traveling around the country playing coffee shops.
“During that time I brought my guitar with me and really immersed myself in teaching myself how to play and writing songs,” he says. “I decided it was the thing that inspired me the most in my life. I operate from a belief that at the core all human beings are the same. We have the same needs, and the same desires, and the same hopes and aspirations, and sadness. The things that make us different is culture and perspective. It became a goal of mine early on to soak up as much perspective as I could.”
After landing back in Boston, he slowly began forming the band.
“I’ve always kind of fancied myself as a folk musician and songwriter,” Ezra says. “I love singer-songwriter writing and I love songs that have story and content and meaning to them. But I’ve always been inspired by bands that created a community through the music they played on stage, that also translated into an infectious feeling off stage. I loved that and wanted to create that.”
After signing with Royal Avenue Records, the band recorded 2011’s Ragtop Angel, produced by Aaron Johnson, best known for his work with The Fray. They followed it with an all-acoustic album, recorded in a cabin in the Catskills in 2012, called Daniel The Brave. Soon after, Ragtop Angel won “Album of the Year” and “Takin’ Off” won “Song of the Year” at the New England Music Awards. The Adam Ezra Group was also named “Band of the Year” in 2013. Now, they are trying to build on that success by pushing further west, with more than 200 live dates booked for 2015.
“The really exciting thing about coming to a place we’ve never been before is we have no idea what to expect,” Ezra says. “We have no idea who will be there so that experience will dictate what the concert ends up being. You might see some songs where people are banging on trash can lids and you might see an accordion or a banjo or some spoons, who knows? We just like to have fun with the music.”